Directory:Akahele/In the eye of the beholder

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kirilove2-150x150.jpg <td class="photocaption" style="text-align: left; Performance Artist Vic Kirilove and his Journal-de-Boörd project.

Vic Kirilove is the latest enigma to come out of the Paris Art scene. Arriving unannounced at prestigious art galleries and openings with his faithful press agent Milena Vlasenka, a sound man, and a lighting operator, Kirilove carries a camera which is obviously not real, but which contains a real camera. He "records" what he calls "the superposition of true and false" in the context of making " fiction on the sites of temples of social fiction".

As his website states: Vic Kirilove capte les circonstances de l’échange où se mettent en place les structures de vérité. (Vic Kirilove captures the circumstances of the exchange in which the structures of truth are put into place.)

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insitu5-150x150.jpg <td class="photocaption" style="text-align: left; A Kirilove performance.

Indeed, in the highly ritualized art world, where value is determined by image, and where social connections and representation often take the place of true artistic content and ideas, Vic Kirilove presents a mirror where the fake camera is actually a real camera recording the events that people are creating for the "performance".

The boundaries of what is true and what is false are intentionally blurred, to create a climate which provokes questions about the motivations of everyone present at the event. The art in this case is not in the creation of an object or the realization of an idea, but rather in the form of a mirror presented to the audience itself, underlining their reactions and their motivations for being objects of representation.

Wikipedia and Art: Love at first flash

Wikipedia is another highly ritualized, complex society which is concerned with evaluating the value of artists and Art. And in this world of worker bees documenting, organizing, and protecting the "sum of all human knowledge", Art is not only serious business, but also something which Wikipedia loves. However, it would seem that the art which Wikipedia supposedly loves so dearly as to convert it into "a scavenger hunt and free content photography contest", is probably extremely far from the Art that someone like Vic Kirilove is creating. Although the definition in Wikipedia's Art article might suggest otherwise:

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music and literature. The meaning of art is explored in a branch of philosophy known as Aesthetics.

The image of well-scrubbed young American teenagers running around museums taking photos of Art works which have been deemed worthy of display in prominent venues seems like a rather constructive way to get these bright young minds interested in their own cultural heritage. The picture is indeed extremely pretty, but to borrow a phrase, is it Art?

The Question of Intent

The honest answer is perhaps. If these industrious photographers are having an aesthetic reaction to the objects that they are photographing, then Art can be said to be taking place. However, what if they're only taking the pictures in order to document the objects for the corresponding articles? Are they considering what the meaning of these objects might be? And what about these prizes? It looks an awful lot like a carrot-and-stick mentality is at work here, rather than the pure artistic pleasure of experiencing a work of art.

The fundamental determining factor in an artistic experience is intent; either that of the artist, that of the observer, or both. In the case of Wikipedia Loves Art, the observer seems to be motivated probably by documenting the object and not reacting to it, other than to capture its form on film. In a contrary manner, Vic Kirilove has provided a mirror in which the reality of truth and artifice is reflected back to the observer, who then becomes a willing or unwilling participant in the Art itself.

Which act is closer to Wikipedia's own definition of Art?

Wikipedia's core policies and creativity

A photo can also be a violation of the "No original research" policy.

Wikipedia is governed by any number of core policies, which are supposedly enforced equally on all editors, but which in practice are often conveniently "forgotten" for editors who are established personalities. The three most important of these policies are no original research, neutral point of view, and verifiability, not truth. What these core policies effectively do is exclude all original thinking and any notion of creativity, and instead simply reporting what is said, rather than what is known. Wikipedia editors are not supposed to reason, much less create, but rather are supposed to take what has already been said, and simply restate the ideas using different words. Thus, it may be reckoned that by these three core policies Wikipedia effectively excludes any artistic activity from its encyclopedia articles. Sometimes editors are allowed to be creative, as was the designer of the digitally-altered photo shown above, but often these types of contributions are excluded because of the way the three core policies are interpreted.

The reason that the three core policies exist is a matter of much discussion. As the point of Wikipedia is presented as the creation of a free, open-source encyclopedia using the collected contributions of everyone, one possible theory is that Wikipedia is intended as an expression of what everybody knows. Artists, as well as other theoretical thinkers whose vision is often uniquely personal, must be excluded from this equation, as they are not just anybody. Another more concrete reason may be the way in which Wikipedia handles individuals who do not conform to its core policies and ideals, through an "inclusion/exclusion" process which has been described as "weeding in/weeding out". But perhaps the main reason is the eternal and inherent conflict in the relationship between the Artist and Society...

Art as a mirror of social reality

The Artist as a mirror that reflects truth back to Society has often been the cause of conflict. The long list of artists in the very provincial German city of Weimar (from Göethe to Nina Hagen, via the Bauhaus crowd) who were forced to leave the city because of the negative reactions of the stuffy bourgeois residents is one very fine example of this type of exclusion of artists by a strongly conventional society.

Another fine example of this process is the Lyrical Satire Il était un petit Navire that Germaine Tailleferre of Les Six wrote with the French screenwriter [href=" Henri Jeanson] (who wrote the screen plays for Pepe Le Moko, Hôtel du Nord, and many other great French films of the 1950s). The work was written specifically to not only make fun of operas, but also of the people who go see them. At the end of the work, the Heroine goes to the front of the stage and sings :

The curtain is going up for you now! Please collect your roles at the coat check and go back to playing the same games that you've been playing so well for so long!

Even though everything was done to downplay the scandal, even to the point of cutting the work to almost half its intended length, the first performance demonstrated that Jeanson's libretto coupled with Tailleferre's music created a mirror which reflected an image back to the audience that was too true to be acceptable. Their reactions were, according to critic Henri Barraud in Musical America, extremely violent:

...the most exciting first performance that Paris has seen in many, many years. The gallery let loose with a storm of invective against the authors and actors, shouting disapproval and demanding its money back. The people in the orchestra and the first balconies, fortified by a large group of invited guests, tried to offset the hostile outcries with their applause.

The Artist creates a mirror and the audience looks at their own reflection through the Artist's actions. When what is reflected back is neither what the audience expects nor wants, hostility is generally the predictable reaction.

What do you suppose happens when this type of allegorical mirror is directed at Wikipedia?


the official logo of the Wikipedia Art project.

On February 14, 2009, Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern created Wikipedia Art by posting an article of the same name on Wikipedia. Wikipedia Art was defined as :

"an art intervention which explicitly invites performative utterances in order to change the work itself. The ongoing composition and performance of Wikipedia Art is intended to point to the 'invisible authors and authorities' of Wikipedia, and by extension the Internet,[2] as well as the site's extant criticisms: bias, consensus over credentials, reliability and accuracy, vandalism, etc... like knowledge and like art, Wikipedia Art is always already variable.

The project is 'similar to Andrew Keen's complaints of Wikipedia as being an unreasonable request upon internet society to create cultural foundations (encyclopedias, art media, etc) without compensation, thus devaluing production."

The Wikipedia Art project manifesto uses obvious cues to express that it will attempt to follow Wikipedia core polices, yet makes the probably fatal error of naming Andrew Keen, who is seen as a key Wikipedia opponent. The authors are clearly using Wikipedia as a reference, reflecting the bureaucratic structure and highly ritualized practices back to the very society that has created them. How could we expect this Society to react to this mirror image?

The reaction was like oil and water, with discussion taking place immediately on several areas within Wikipedia itself. The Wikipedia Art article lasted for fifteen hours until it was removed from Wikipedia through Wikipedia's deletion process and generated an extremely long discussion on Wikipedia's Village Pump page. In the middle of the exceedingly polite discussion as to whether or not this article should be kept, there is another much more burning question which is only fleetingly touched upon in certain comments: Are we being had? In other words, is this serious or is this a big joke? Or, to put it another way, what is the intent? Werdna, the user name of the administrator who closed this debate seems to make a judgment in his comments on the Village Pump :

I ended the circus as a routine A7. — Werdna • talk 06:37, 15 February 2009 (UTC)

Note the disparaging remark, and the return to normalcy via the Wikipedia-specific alphanumeric jargon. Those art trolls aren't going to pull the wool over our eyes! No sir! Unfortunately for him, Werdna discovered too late the perils of confronting the Art World head on! (A history of the project from the point of view of the artists is available here).

The end product of the conflict: Vandalism

Around the same time the Wikipedia Art project was going on, police in Stockholm, Sweden were investigating the case of an art student who had filmed the vandalism of a subway train as part of his final project for Art School. Another student pretended to be be psychotic and went as far as arranging to be committed to a psychiatric hospital.

The artist who seeks to express his views of society to generate a reaction may resort to many strategies, which may include role-playing, vandalism or ideas which are merely creations of the fertile imagination of the Artist. Of course, many non-artists also use these same strategies for other aims. The question is: how does one tell who is an artist and who is a psychotic, especially in an environment where just about everyone is a pseudonym to begin with?

Wiki-projections and the question of intent

The answer is: you can't, unless you can know the intent of the person involved. In the Web 2.0 world, where pseudonyms are the rule rather than the exception, you can't know the intent of the person making a given statement, but you can make guesses as to what you think the person might be implying. These types of projections, especially in text-only settings where vocal and facial cues are absent, often lead to conclusions which have more to say about the people making the judgment rather than the speaker.

For example, in this thread on the Wikipedia Review which discusses an article entitled The Strip Search Prank Call Scam, participants made judgments about the principals in the story based on their personal feelings about the incident, rather than by using the sources or the evidence. Clearly, a great deal of projection as to the intent of the people involved was being generated.

This type of emotional judgment of intent is typical of the core group of Wikipedia editors, with all people outside of their behavioral expectations being labeled with the same generic term: Troll.

Positive Trolling for the greater good of Mankind

<img src="2799642335_0816a4f213.jpg" alt="A troll and his electric knife" height="200" width="150" />
A troll and his electric knife.

People who are seen as trolls by those in power at Wikipedia are often those who are simply pointing out flaws in the way Wikipedia works, or rather in the way it doesn't work. To give one famous example, for quite a while the Wikipedia article for Electric knife contained the following text :

QUOTE (Wikipedia, "Electric knife" @ 12/10/07) They are also sometimes used for other purposes, such as shaping polyurethane foam rubber to make hip and buttock padding.

Because this particular use of the electric knife was difficult to source and sounded rather odd, a "thoughtful" editor added another use for electric knives which was easier to source. This was seen as trolling by other Wikipedia editors, but it did serve to point out that the other information about padding was perhaps not necessary for a general-purpose encyclopedia. While one cannot know whether or not this edit was "artistic", the effect of the edit itself served to underline the true motivations of the initial editor, bringing into light the existence of a hidden agenda. In this sense, it may be seen as an artistic action, whether or not an artistic intent was indeed present, as the result was a reaction from both participants and spectators.

The original incarnation of the "Wet Floor sign" article is perhaps my favorite example of possibly artistic Wikipedia vandalism, underlining many major faults of Wikipedia practice, the foremost of which is taking everything much too seriously. The last paragraph is particularly stunning in its pretentious and vapid tone :

There is currently a debate within the intelligentsia and within the population as a whole concerning the worthiness of treating the 'wet-floor sign' as a subject of inquiry, independent of the more general topic of 'signs.' On the one side are those scholars such as the present writer, who view each and every type of sign as a unique contribution to civilization's wealth and security, just as each individual human is perfectly independent of others and is endowed with certain unalienable rights: rights held by the individual, not the collective. These scholars understand the incredible value of a wet-floor sign. A wet-floor sign warns. It teaches. It promotes bilingualism. It enhances the aesthetics of an environment. It prevents injury. It is yellow and has a man falling down on it. On the other side of the debate are those who wish to censor; those who wish to label; those who wish to limit the debate; those who wish limit expression of a person's, an object's individual characteristics. They argue that by knowing what a 'sign' is, we obviously know what a 'wet-floor sign' is. They argue that there is no difference between a sign that proclaims "WET FLOOR" and a sign that proclaims "START LINE HERE." They argue that it is unnecessary to specialize one's knowledge, to understand uniqueness, to consider the small things around us. They argue that 'a sign is a sign, no matter what it says.' This debate continues, and its conclusion will determine humanity's intellectual future.

<td class="photocaption" style="text-align: left; Lady Catherine Augusta Amelia Gladys de Burgh was a candidate for the ArbCom elections in 2008, until her sudden "death".
CdeB2.jpg" alt="Lady Catherine Augusta Amelia Gladys de Burgh was a candidate for the ArbCom elections in 2008, until her sudden death

Although the author of this gem is unknown, I have always suspected User: Giano whose beautifully written prose articles and wonderfully dry sense of humor shine like gems amongst the rest of the dreck which passes for writing on Wikipedia. He certainly knows how to push buttons without getting indefinitely banned, in spite of being seen as a troll almost universally among the higher cabals of Wikipedia. Giano's greatest achievement was creating the character Lady Catherine de Burgh, whose bid to be elected to Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee was stopped short by her very untimely death, although not before making some very arch statements:

"Rumour is a very dangerous thing, just imagine if we were all to listen to every Wikipedia rumour and whisper. Goodness gracious one would believe every Arb and check-user were the mistress/lover of the other - or worse! - perish the thought. The only blackberries I have dear are in a crumble. The Arbcom is quite safe in my hands. Catherine de Burgh (Lady) (talk) 22:46, 17 November 2008 (UTC)"

It might be said that Giano is perhaps the most successful Wikipedia artist of all time, having found (at least temporarily) a way of working within the confines of that highly ritualized society. It is also highly likely that, given his long history of conflicts with the Wikipedia establishment (right up to Jimbo Wales) that he will be banned at some point, proving once again that original thinking and creativity have no place in Wikipedia.

It is regrettable that the "weeding in/weeding out" process generally excludes those whose thinking is outside of what is accepted by the masses as "normal" and includes those whose role is to simply repeat that which is already known by all, without considering the consequences and implications of what is being said. That this is a popular viewpoint says much about our society and the role of Art and Artists within it.

Meanwhile, within the confines of Wikipedia, the mop-wielding administrators will continue to do battle with the unending stream of trolls until somebody finally pulls the plug on the servers, like so many monks trying to solve an infinite number of unsolvable zen koans. If the administrators would put their mops down for a minute and listen to what the trolls are saying, perhaps they might learn something.

Image credits:


16 Responses to In the eye of the beholder

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Barry Kort

Spitting In the Eye of the Bescolder

In the gray area between True and False, there lies the Unknown, the Unknowable, and Art.

Sincerity and Intent are notoriously hard to judge in a cyber-culture like Wikipedia. In the end, it comes down to a personal opinion, a haphazard theory of mind about another character, based on a handful of encounters in a bizarro online world.

Notwithstanding the taboo against original research, the discussion pages of Wikipedia are flush with novel characterizations in which rival editors are variously adjudged as disruptive trolls, tendentious PoV-pushers, vandals, meat puppets, clowns, and cranks.

Oddly enough, few of these challengers are characterized as artistes worthy of respect for illustrating the erratic process by which one reliably reckons authentic knowledge amidst a miasma of opinions, judgments, and idiosyncratic points of view.

My Continuing Adventures in Technology… » links for 2009-03-23 [...] Akahele | In the eye of the beholder (tags: art culture criticism internet wikipedia authorship online intent epistemology) [...]

Gregory Kohs

It may be appropriate at this time for me to take full credit for this artistic edit:

Less than 30 hours later, the user account was indefinitely blocked for the crime of “vandalism”. The Wikipedia administrator who issued the block also happens to be a trans-gendered individual (which might suggest a conflict-of-interest surrounding “hip and buttock padding”), but who am I to say?


“If the administrators would put their mops down for a minute and listen to what the trolls are saying, perhaps they might learn something.”

If so, what’s a reasonable way of dealing with edits designed to be disruptive? What do you suggest is the proper way to react?

It stands to reason that people who can’t behave within reasonable limits shouldn’t be listened to—being listened to is their goal, to get a reaction is their goal, and this goal is destructive. Satire and irony are one thing, but surely it is better for the goal of a constructive, collaborative project to filter out nonsense and so-called “trolling”.

P.S.: With all due respect to Mr. Kohs, the picture with the electric knife is hilarious

Gregory Kohs

Nihiltres is a Wikipedian with whom I’ve sparred (sometimes with less tact than I’d have wished) in various venues on the Internet. However, we have been participating amicably in the Yahoo! Answers forum regarding Wikipedia, for a number of weeks now. I have to say I am building a certain respect for this person, and his 68% “Best Answer” ratio in generating Answers on Yahoo! is simply phenomenal.

Now, that being said, I ask the dear readers to simply peruse some of the words that Nihiltres has entered into the discussion:


“can’t behave”


But, he does show hope in at least noting that “Satire and irony are one thing…” STICK WITH THAT THOUGHT, Nihiltres. If you are capable of recognizing irony when it’s presented to you from the outside artist, might not you also be capable of recognizing irony when it surrounds you from within on a particular encyclopedia project?

Are you absolutely certain that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia? After nearly six years of existence, would not someone by now have served on the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees who has professional experience in reference publishing?

If you’re wearing a live chicken on your head, but you insist that it’s a fedora, is it our responsibility to not “disrupt” you from your notions, “behave” ourselves, and try to not be “destructive” in telling you things might not be as they seem to you?

Paul Wehage

@Nihiltres, thank you for the compliment about the photo of Mr. Kohs. It’s under his copyright and he very generously agreed to share it with us for the humorous note it gives the article.

The business about “hip and buttock” padding on the “electric knife” article is a long standing joke on WR, but it does beg the question of why the person who made the sourced statement (dismembering spouses) was banned and why the person who made the unsourced statement (”hip and buttock padding for transvestites”) was allowed to continue editing without as much as a warning, in spite of the clear breach of policy?

In hindsight, we now know that the person who ended up banning the person who challenged the “hip and buttock” padding was later discovered to be trans gendered herself. So who was making the disruptive edits? Who was banned? Are you sure that you can completely state who was the troll and who was the encyclopedist in this situation?

The whole point of this article is that WP editors are much too quick to call “troll” when they can’t really know what the other person is trying to say. Self-criticism is a good start here: even the WP cabal has come around to this idea, given the number of card-carrying members who now post on the Wikipedia Review.

The Wikipedia Art project was handled with a bit more tact, yet it created a great deal of bad blood between the artists and Wikipedia, as their site points out. These people are serious, notable artists. Why are they excluded from participating because you people can’t understand what they were trying to do? Why have you allowed this to remain in this state, without trying to at least understand the motivations and actions? Why is it always a one way street to Bansville with you people?

Maybe you need to think about what you’re doing and why because it sure isn’t adding up to “the sum of all human knowledge” with de-facto exclusions such as this.

Barry Kort

“What’s a reasonable way of dealing with edits designed to be disruptive? What do you suggest is the proper way to react?”

The first thing to do is to verify the hypothesis that an edit is “designed to be disruptive.” Can you tell me how you establish a reliable theory of mind regarding another editor’s intentions?

However, if one is disturbed or upset by an unexpected edit, a reasonable way to react is to 1) candidly disclose that one is surprised, disturbed, or upset, 2) inquire if that was the intended reaction, and 3) inquire further as to the editor’s intended purpose.

It occurs to me that jumping to a haphazard conclusion about another editor’s intentions is a classic recipe for absurdist drama.


Rather, I think it is one’s responsibility to not rip the chicken from the person’s head and cook them something like in that picture I found so amusing above. Instead, perhaps merely holding up a mirror will do the trick—if it turns out that the chicken is a pet by the name of Fedora…


My previous comment might make less sense than I thought it did, especially in the light of the comments I missed by leaving the window open for a long time. :/

I find the responses interesting, (and indeed I acknowledge that you’re right about the importance of a theory of mind, though I want to point out that it’s not black-and-white) and think it would be worthwhile to continue this conversation in a better forum than a blog comment system.

Perhaps I’ll get around to registering an account on Wikipedia Review; while I dislike the atmosphere there, if discussion there could produce ideas to improve Wikipedia without sacrificing its nature*, it would be constructive.

  • that is, sacrificing those elements which are arguably strengths of Wikipedia, such as open editing. Nupedia’s already been proven to not work.

Barry Kort

There are two or three alternative venues that can be used for a serious round-table discussion.


Ah the infamous electric knife, with “cheeto-colored beaver teeth”. Good times.

Speaking of trolling, readers might be interested in the SureFire M6 Guardian article, and Jimmy Wales’ response to the creation of the article. He titles it, “A little advice from an Internet old timer about trolls”.

Jon Awbrey

It appears that Akahele has quickly, all too quickly reached that old Kierkegaardian Either-Or — it will have to choose Either the response of the conversional aesthete, running the mill from effete to hysterical, Or it will have to convert the moral outrage that is our due into the concerted action that it will take to ameliorate, not celebrate the Absurd.

Paul Wehage

Shouldn’t one first try to examine the underlying patterns and reactions to THE ABSURD in order to find the underlying meaning in all of this? If you haven’t defined the problem, you certainly can’t solve it. An examination of intent seems to be necessary in understanding the dynamics.

Jon Awbrey

Re: “An examination of intent seems to be necessary in understanding the dynamics.”

Observation of the dynamics is necessary to form a fair hypothesis about the intent.

Just how long do you plan on staring at this particular cobra before you do that?

Paul Wehage

Well, Mr. Awbrey, why don’t you write a piece about what should be happening? We’re going to be opening up to other contributors pretty soon…

Violet Vernon

If I had a nickel for every time I came to! Great read!